Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.auBy Robert Heathcote | Thursday, January 27, 2011
Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.There has been a recent study into the impact of whipping horses on performance in thoroughbred racehorses. The study was carried out by two University of Sydney veterinarians and funded by the RSPCA.I do not agree with their findings which categorically state that horses being whipped in the final stages of a race, in the face of muscle fatigue, is to NO benefit at all.I know there are still many within our industry, like me, who do not agree with the 'new' current rules relating to the use of the whip, the type of whip and, of course, the number of times the whip may be used.I would suggest also that had the jockey's association nationwide fully understood the impact of the new rule relating to the actual number of times a whip may be used prior to a designated mark up the straight, they may well have fought the new imposition a bit more vigorously, especially as it has now cost so many jockey's many hundreds and thousands nationwide in steward imposed fines!
For me, there is a term which is of vital importance regarding both cases of the whip use.That term is 'perception'.The perception is there from the anti whipping lobby that it is painful for a horse to be whipped and according to this recent university study, pointless to make the horse go any faster or to give its best. I do not believe that the new 'padded' whips do actually inflict any pain or harm the horses so I fail to see the need to ban the whips let alone restrict the number of times a rider can in fact use the whips.I may not have a degree in veterinary science or animal behavior, but I have trained racehorses long enough to be able to assess the impact of whip use on my horses and I refute the assertions of the university study.Interestingly I see where the report/study was carried out with the assistance of racing NSW.No doubt that this entire issue has political ramifications and our industry administrators have to work with such strong lobby groups such as the RSPCA.The study states that the reason for the use of the whip has traditionally been the need to be seen to ride the horse out and that the jockey can use the whip as an aid to correct a horses manners and or steering.The study says that many riders refute that!Well, I have not spoken to a race jockey yet who says that the whip is an integral part of their riding gear and whilst it is not always essential as a riding aid, it’s invaluable on some occasions to assist in riding the racehorse and a steering aid!Just ask any track work rider going out on a two-year-old if the whip is an invaluable riding aid!Of course, the perception has to be there to the betting public which provide the turnover which drives our industry that the horses are giving their best and, for that matter, even the jockey's are giving one hundred percent!We have already seen several controversial race incidences where, in a driving finish, a rider uses the whip more times than the other and incurs a penalty and yet, although contravening the rules, keeps the race.I have to admit that I have not read the full study in its entirety and it’s mildly alarming to me as a trainer that the push for further restrictions within our industry is still quite active regarding the use of the whip!It's pleasing to see that Mr Andrew Harding, the CEO of the Australian Racing Board states that the Board doubts the scientific worth of applying logistic regression to draw conclusions about the extent on performance of the use of the padded whip.Mr Harding also stated that the ARB believes that the extensive reforms to the whip and its use are appropriate and working as they were intended. We all know in the industry the myriad of variables which can affect the outcome of a race. There is no doubt to me that the University professors and scientists do not!Prior to these 'new' whip rules coming in, I was happy with the previous arrangements whereby the racing stewards could and often did impose penalties on any rider they deemed to have unnecessarily used the whip when a horse was not in contention to run into the prize money.Their discretion in applying penalties is a good enough deterrent to excessive use of the whip by riders and even more so with the introduction of the new padded whips.I don't believe anyone in our industry wants to see or can condone any acts deemed cruel or unnecessary and that's why I fully support the measures taken by the stewards when they punish offenders for this.I do not however agree with the continual fines handed out for a rider who uses the 'padded' whip a few more times than the five times prior to the 100 metre mark rule.I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THIS RULE DONE AWAY WITH regarding a jockey having to count the number of times he has hit a horse prior to a certain mark … and the stewards empowered with the job of determining if a jockey has used the whip excessively! No doubt the lobby against the use of the whips is well funded, a powerful political lobby and may in fact be well intentioned.I however believe it is misguided due to the fact that little if any harm actually comes to the horses and the study give little credence to the reasons a jockey carries the whip in the first place and the importance the whip has in our industry.
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